By Jeff Wagner

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesotans are taking the volunteer effort to help Hurricane Irma victims to new heights.

Pilot Peter Burwell loaded up his family’s airplane at St. Paul Downtown Airport Tuesday with supplies to help victims and first responders in Florida.

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It’s through a nonprofit called Aerobridge which has pilots volunteer their time and aircrafts to send relief to disaster-stricken areas.

Chain saws wedged in between generators don’t exactly qualify as luggage, but this trip isn’t a vacation for pilot Peter Burwell.

“It’s a little different but it’s definitely rewarding,” Burwell said.

The tools packing his airplane will help people clean up and rebuild towns Hurricane Irma ravaged over the weekend.

“My family and I decided we want to get in the fight and help in a meaningful way,” he said. “You know that you’re handing the chain saws to the people who are going to go use them and help people with their houses and help rescue people. I mean it’s a really fulfilling feeling.”

(credit: CBS)

Burwell will land in Lakeland, Florida, where Aerobridge has set up a home base. Over the next week, he said he and other volunteer pilots will continuously fly supplies to areas such as the Florida Keys, Naples, Jacksonville, and anywhere assistance is needed “I’m rested, I’m ready to rock and get into the fight,” he said.

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Burwell’s first Aerobridge trip was about a week ago when he made several stops across the country in just one day to help Hurricane Harvey victims. He first landed in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and from there went to Beaumont, Texas, then Orlando, Florida, then Dallas before heading home to Minnesota.

“I think what’s motivating me is after going down the Beaumont and meeting the police chief, he pulled me aside as we were all unloading the airplane and he’s like ‘You know that sergeant over there that’s helping unload that’s busting his butt? He lost everything, he doesn’t have a house’,” Burwell said.

In addition to flying with supplies, a volunteer mechanic is riding along with Burwell to keep planes operational at the home base. Burwell added more seats into his plane because he anticipates flying first responders around Florida as well.

The heavy lifting and constant flying can be exhausting but Burwell’s tank is nowhere near empty, and his desire to help people in need is soaring higher than he ever imagined.

“I just hope I can encourage more pilots sign up for the fight,” he said.

Aerobridge representatives said they currently have 211 pilots helping with hurricane relief. Six of the pilots are from Minnesota, four are from Wisconsin.

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If you’d like to donate money or supplies to Aerobridge or sign up as a volunteer pilot, click here to learn more.

Jeff Wagner